Absence Makes The Heart Grow Wiser: Why You Should Spend Some Time Alone After A Break-Up

by Samantha Bell

It’s an all too common theme  in the modern dating world – getting out of one relationship and jumping right into a new one. I like to call this term “shampooing” (you know, like lather all the bad memories of the break-up, rinse off the things you never said and repeat with your new love interest). I want to start by saying I’m definitely not looking down on the people that have done this – seriously, good for you for getting back out there.

I’ve talked about this at length but some of my other (single) friends, and we’re all just kind of perplexed. This concept has just always made us curious. When you’re in a relationship, most of the time there is so much you share and cherish – hangover breakfasts in bed, venting sessions that surpass sunsets, long drives full of banter and car concerts, Netflix passwords, apartments, dogs. Where does all of that stuff go? How do you pack it up, put it away and make room for someone new without making sense of it first? Without labeling it as “baggage” ?

As I’ve tried to make sense of this phenomenon, I realized that sometimes, people let go of a relationship long before a break-up. Sometimes people feel more lonely with their partners and actually start to mourn them before they make the decision to walk away. Freakin’ yikes. I totally sympathize with that. It’s a dark place to be – empty and alone when you’re standing right next to someone who once filled you to the brim. And when someone new comes along and makes you feel butterflies and bright again – it’s not hard to throw all cautions and logic to the wind.

There’s something to be said for that. I have a deep admiration for people who follow their happiness unapologetically and without fail.  But at the end of the day, if you still haven’t spent any time alone sitting down with the horrors of your past relationship, you run the risk of having those skeletons come right out of the closet. Or in other words, having them resurface – either in the form of regrets, a feeling of lost identity or in the manifestation of a vicious cycle. In other words – making the same mistakes in your next relationship. 

I believe it’s super important to go right through the seasons of a break-up – not around them. Put on your best emotion-repellent parka and deal with it.  Be angry. Throw away their clothes, block their number, get wine drunk with your friends and play every inch of your “break-up” playlist. Do all of that, for it is therapeutic. Ride the wave of “This was the best decision I’ve ever made” to  “This might’ve been the biggest mistake of my life” and back. Feel lonely. Soak into the empty side of the bed and cry it out. There will likely be more than one or two really, really hard nights that not even Ben and Jerry’s and a bottle of wine can fix (yeah, that bad). Like anything else in life, there are major highs and lows. But I really believe there is a lot to gain from trusting the process. 

It isn’t easy to stay steady when these changing emotional climates roll in, but it’s almost always worth it. Because I think when you come out on the other side, you won’t be thanking anyone else for weathering the storm. You won’t have a sinking feeling that you don’t know how to be alone – that you’re “just not good at it.” Seriously, have you ever heard someone say that and thought, wow, what a cop out. 

If you’re someone who was in a really bad relationship and you were able to find happiness again – honestly, good for you. Everyone’s path is different, right? But honestly, I stand by the idea that sometimes the most lucid clarity you could possibly have about your time spent with another person comes in the absence of distraction, or comfort. You might feel it the most in the middle of the night when your bed feels too big, or when you show up at your best friend’s wedding minus one. It’s gut-wrenching, even to write about.

I believe that most relationships deserve a proper wake. Letting the dust and memories settle into their place in your past is powerful. First of all, I think it avoids the whole, “you were always replaceable” impression, which isn’t a great way to end things. That doesn’t mean you have to end things on a high note and pretend you can pull off the whole Gwen Stefani “Cool” vibe (great song, difficult notion), but I do think there is value in taking things slow to pay homage to a period of your life that is ending. I’m not saying compromise your own happiness, but remain considerate and try not to give off the idea that the last [insert length of your own relationship here] meant nothing.

I also think it allows for a perspective and a level of wisdom that jumping right into a new cycle just doesn’t. Regardless of how long you spend with another person – you exchange a lot. You give away and take little pieces of each other, and in my experience – it’s always worth figuring out what those little takeaways are and how they fit into your path forward. Sure, you could do this in a new relationship, but uh – three is kind of a crowd in this sense.

What waits on the other side of the really awful tunnel that is any break-up is growth – visibility into what you need to work on, what you want from a partner and what you’ll avoid at all costs. There’s also strength. The unwavering security that comes from knowing no matter what another person does to you – you will be OK. If you choose to take five (like weeks or months, not minutes) before diving into something new, you might also realize that life isn’t any less startling, riveting or magnificent when you’re doing it alone. 

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